How are you feeling today? Healthy and alert with some pep in your step? Or are you suffering from aches and pains, feeling tired or even mildly depressed? There’s a fellow from a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland who may have a cure for what ails you. His name is David Mercier.
Mercier’s resume includes a Masters’ degree in acupuncture, two years of study under renowned psychologist Stanislav Grof and a teaching gig as an integrated medicine professor at John Hopkins University. He also has a deeply spiritual side, having spent two years living as a monk in Buddhist monastery, while currently conducting classes in meditation and mindfulness.
In A Beautiful Medicine, A Radical Look at the Essence of Health and Healing, Mercier posits that the cure for much of what ails us lies within us. He believes the great majority of the aches and pains we experience need to be looked at in a fresh way—as symbols of deeper issues within our bodies and within our souls.
While Mercier concedes that some symptoms can be signs of serious illness, he also believes that symptoms are the equivalent of “a flashing light on the dashboard, the wailing of a smoke alarm, a baby’s cry in the night.” The symptom is not the problem itself. It merely points to a problem. That’s why he says:
When we have a backache, a migraine or a case of the blues, we need to be curious about the symptom’s intent and ask ourselves:
- What’s the message?
- What am I being asked to do?
- Is there something missing that I need to add?
- Is there something present that I need to subtract?
Mercier points out that the most common way we approach these symptoms or messages from the body is to blunt them, without trying to understand their purpose. We do this through “medications, herbs, denial, overwork or alcohol.” We never get to the core issue, the problems or stress that lies behind the symptoms.
He also has an interesting take on what our symptoms want from us and why they appear. Mercier writes that:
Since our bodies can’t form words and sentences, they gesture with insomnia, headaches, a pain in the belly, an ache in the shoulder, a shroud of weariness…our symptoms are often asking us to purge our bodies of grief, resentment, fear, and sometimes, plain boredom.
David Mercier has met the enemy. It’s the way we live today.
In his own practice, Mercier often finds that once he deals with the outward symptoms, he is able to discuss with his patients the true root of their problems. And often these problems are caused by poor lifestyle and work choices.
Headaches and insomnia can come from the contours of our lives, which are in turn shaped by our values and priorities. The headaches and insomnia can come from eating poorly and not exercising, which come from not having enough time, which comes from being too busy at work, which comes from the desire to have a certain income.
Many of our problems are self-induced. The author blames this on “the myth that happiness is the freedom to indulge without limits our overindulgent lives.” Mercier points out that “watching a sitcom with beer and chips in hand doesn’t inspire us to lead our best lives, or to seek the heights of human possibility.” In other words, we are often our own worst enemies. He concludes that:
The most common proximal sources of inertia are the allure of the sugar fairy, the siren call of daily drink, and the gravitational pull of the American couch. For many others, the inertia in taking care of their health comes from being under the whip of constant work overload and a frenzied schedule. They choose a lifestyle which allows them insufficient time to do good things for their bodies.
For our health and well-being, we may need to live a simpler life. While we can always run to a doctor for a quick fix of what ails us, ultimately this does not address the underlying issues. We need to find the motivation, courage and discipline to make the changes necessary to improve our lives. Mercier tells us that when we commit to becoming fit and healthy, it’s part of a bigger plan:
You’re taking out spiritual insurance and increasing the chances that the generosity of your soul will be more durable and available longer to those who need it most. We’re here for a purpose, and that purpose is grander than our own individual designs for our lives…living with a meaningful purpose, perhaps even one you would die for, paves the potholes of daily living.
And isn’t fulfilling our purpose what life is all about?